Photographic exhibition captures Stratford past and present

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Photographer William Mulryne at his exhibition Living With History. Photo: Mark Williamson

Photographer William Mulryne tells Herald arts about his compelling exhibition, Living with History, at Hall’s Croft.

It’s amazing how much photographs can take on the qualities of a fine painting sometimes. This is very evident in a new exhibition of young photographer William Mulryne’s work, which is currently being hosted by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at Hall’s Croft.

Stone-cutters Clifford and Sons have operated in Stratford since the 1890s.
Photo: William Mulryne

Hall’s Croft is the Jacobean home of William Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, and her husband, the prominent physician John Hall, and one of five homes linked to Shakespeare and his family that are cared for by the independent charity. The exhibition at the café, which consists of 14 large framed photographs, is supported by Arts Council England.

William, who has Asperger Syndrome, was born and brought up in Stratford and studied photography at Stratford-upon-Avon College. He describes himself as “an observer of things”. His photographs are his documentary of everyday life in a population of around 30,000 people, sharing their town with five million visitors each year as the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

William tells Herald arts that he first started photographing objects as a way of keeping them – once he had an image he felt he no longer needed the object…. A marvellous way of decluttering, obviously. “The object then existed in the picture and I didn’t need it any more,” says William.

Continuing his explanation for the inspiration for his current collection, William says: “Stratford-upon-Avon is an amazing place with a special feeling, but the town gets smaller every time you go out. I understand when people get angry at the various developments as it changes the feeling of the town with every one. Asperger Syndrome made growing up a series of experiences, everything was 100 per cent interesting. I experienced cars, music, elevators: the sounds and the way they moved, working out how they worked and being mesmerised by the visual movement.”

As well as documenting life in Stratford, William’s work also captures a certain beauty and simplicity – almost painterly. For example here’s one of a service being conducted inside Guild Chapel that glows like a Renaissance work; another captures ‘swan man’ Cyril Bennis mid tussle with a large bird he is trying to help; and a portrait of the Birthplace’s Professor Sir Stanley Wells inside his book strewn office is wonderfully revealing.

One of William’s personal favourites is ‘headstone carving’. William explains he likes the continuity it shows with the past. He says: “Clifford and Sons have been the town’s stonecutters 1891 when this workshop was established and was lived in by the first stonecutter in the family George Clifford.

“You can see his stone self-portrait bust on the top left shelf, next to his wife. You can see his old fireplace behind Jake, the current Clifford Son.”

Living with History takes place in this 250th anniversary year of the Shakespeare Jubilee, which was organised in 1769 by prominent actor and theatre impresario, David Garrick. It took place in Stratford-upon-Avon and was the first celebration of Shakespeare anywhere in world, and really established his home town as the tourist and cultural destination that it is today.

The exhibition is curated by Josephine Reichert, the founder and director of Ort Gallery, an artist-led exhibition space in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. Ort Gallery showcases the work of under-represented artists and facilitates dialogue in the community, making art accessible to everyone. William is also being mentored by the Prince’s Trust.

Louisa Davies, head of creative programme at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said, “The photographs selected for this exhibition capture William’s feelings beautifully; the nostalgia of childhood, the love for restoration and keeping history alive. They capture a brief moment in time and yet they represent a very different view of the town to the experience most tourists will have. They give us an insight into ‘real life’, the every day and the extra ordinary within these humdrum moments.”

When and where: Living With History is on at Hall’s Croft until 29th September. Entrance is free. For more information, visit www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit/halls-croft/living-history

A parallel exhibition is also running currently at the Stratford Play House.